Ex-hospital exec to oversee Cover Oregon exchange

PORTLAND, Ore. — Gov. John Kitzhaber said Friday he is bringing in outside help to get Oregon’s troubled health insurance exchange going.

The governor said former Providence Health System CEO Greg Van Pelt will “lend his expertise and provide an independent, outsider’s view of Cover Oregon.” Pelt will not be paid.

Oregon was an early leader in developing an exchange but was embarrassed when the online enrollment system wasn’t ready to launch in October. The exchange, known as Cover Oregon, is running far behind other states and has yet to enroll anyone.

The state is using a paper-based backup system instead and has hired or reassigned 400 workers to process applications by hand.

Kitzhaber also said Dr. Bruce Goldberg, director of the Oregon Health Authority, will oversee the application and enrollment process. Oregon has received about 30,000 paper applications thus far, the governor said. About 5,000 have been processed and sent back to applicants, who then have the option to pick an insurance plan and send their choice back to the state to enroll.

The state has also enrolled about 75,000 people in Medicaid via a “fast-track” enrollment process, reducing the ranks of the uninsured by more than 10 percent.

Kitzhaber says the moves will free Cover Oregon Executive Director Rocky King to focus on getting the exchange website working.

King has faced growing pressure from the Legislature and the exchange’s governing board to explain what went wrong and how it will be fixed.

The governor said the problems with the exchange have been “frustrating” and the state will do a post-mortem analysis of what wrong – but not until later. For now, the state is focused on getting Oregonians enrolled via the manual paper system, he said.

“We have limited time, so we’re putting all hands on deck to make sure every person who wants insurance by Jan. 1 will have it,” Kitzhaber said.

The governor also said he should have been paying more attention to Cover Oregon’s woes.

“In retrospect, I should have been more engaged in the project. I didn’t realize the problems were so significant,” he said.

Cover Oregon is supposed to allow people to shop online for health coverage, find out whether they qualify for tax credits under the federal health care law, and enroll in an insurance plan or Medicaid. But Oregon’s system has struggled to accurately determine whether people are eligible for Medicaid or tax credits.

State officials say Cover Oregon’s online enrollment should work for individuals by mid-December, but not in time for people to get coverage that begins Jan. 1. To have coverage at the start of the year, applications must be postmarked by Dec. 4 and a plan must be selected by Dec. 15.

Kitzhaber has been a staunch supporter of the exchange, persuading state lawmakers to approve a robust, ambitious platform. While other states building their own insurance exchanges have compromised on certain features, Oregon has held on to its vision of building a complicated clearinghouse that could screen people for a wide range of public assistance programs, not just health care.

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